For a start, there’s going to the Oscars when you’re 13. There’s mingling with Paul McCartney and Yoko Ono at a ball in Manhattan. Best of all, there’s getting your much missed collie back.
The dog, Sassie, went AWOL in Dublin in 2007 when Ronan (whose new film, the action thriller Hanna, is out today) was filming in the US. Fortunately, she had been picked up and was being cared for by the Irish Blue Cross animal charity while they searched for her owner. Mentioning the missing Sassie during a radio interview while in the States helped to get the story out and the two were reunited. To say thanks, Ronan helped raise money for the charity. “It was great to give something back to them.”
Ronan’s latest screen incarnation is not, it’s fair to say, the shaggy dog-loving, charity-fundraising type. A teenage assassin trained by her ex-secret agent father, the unworldly Hanna is a cross between Jason Bourne and Little House on the Prairie’s Laura Ingalls. To convince as a teen who can kill with her bare hands or any implement to hand, Ronan went through intensive training. Months before shooting began she was in the gym every day building up strength and fitness. Then it was out to LA for six weeks to train with Jeff Imada, the fight choreographer who had also worked on two Bourne films.
Eric Bana, who plays Hanna’s father, soon realised how successful the training regime had been. “I had to be careful in our fight-training scenes together because those fists come at a great rate and with real force. I had to be very cautious not to hurt her – and not get knocked out by her. I’ve worked with a lot of guys who are not as tough as Saoirse.”
Sitting cross-legged on a couch in a London hotel, Ronan looks about as threatening as one of the nearby cushions. With bright green nail varnish, red skinny jeans and a new, shorter hairstyle – “It was a little bit too long, a little bit too young” – she’s acquitting herself well in the part of an ordinary 17-year-old, albeit one with a movie career that’s proceeding very nicely.
Born in New York, where her actor father was working at the time, her career began after the family returned to Ireland and she appeared, aged nine, in a hospital drama on TV. After a false start to her film career with the straight-to-video I Could Never Be Your Woman, in which she appeared opposite Michelle Pfeiffer, Ronan announced her presence in the business in Academy Award-nominated style in Atonement. Starring alongside Scotland’s James McAvoy and Keira Knightley, Ronan played the girl whose rush to judgement has calamitous effects.
The director of Atonement was Joe Wright, who also helmed Hanna. He noticed big changes in her between the two gigs. “She was 12 when we made Atonement, she turned 16 during the shooting of Hanna. She’s evolved as an actress, is a lot more in control of her craft, and obviously has a much broader understanding of the world and a greater interest in it. But fundamentally, her talent comes from the same place – her extraordinary imagination.”
That ability to convince as anything from a scheming English girl in Atonement to an exotic assassin in Hanna, means many roles are open to her, says Wright. Asked to speculate where her career is heading, he says she has the ability to be as good as Meryl Streep. “She can really do anything.” (She has a Streepian flair for accents. In Atonement she was English, in Hanna she’s German. In person, her own accent is as Irish as soda bread.)
For now, the next Meryl Streep lists her favourite things as watching Coronation Street with her mum, walking Sassie in the countryside near her home in County Carlow – and Lady Gaga. “I can’t wait for her video to come out. She’s a true artist.” Her musical education, Lady Gaga apart, has been steered by her parents and her uncle Joe. “He’s got brilliant taste in music. He’s a bit of a hippy.” Her latest discovery is Bob Dylan, whose Highway 61 Revisited she visited on a flight to New Zealand.
Though her own singing is confined to the shower – “My shampoo thinks I’m wonderful” – being in a band appeals. “I don’t know whether I’d be good enough to sing but I’ve always liked the idea of being in a band. In a way [singing] is like performing a very emotional scene. You get all the frustration, anger, anything you have inside you, you can just let it out for a few minutes.”
She had a chance to mingle with music A-listers recently at the Met Ball in New York. Besides McCartney and Ono there was Mick Jagger, Madonna, Beyonce and enough models, actors and assorted others to keep magazine picture editors in a state of delirium from now until Christmas. “I went to the Oscars when I was younger, but I’ve never seen so many famous people in one place from so many different parts of showbusiness. It was amazing. The red carpet was mad.”
Besides her dream of being in a band, she’s pondering university, to study history of art, film or philosophy. She’s not worried that she’d stand out from the student crowd. “I’m not as famous as Emma Watson,” she says, referring to the Harry Potter star who went to university in the US. “She’s one of the most famous people in the world and to do something like that, she obviously really cares about her education. But I think I’d be fine. If it was somewhere like the States I’d imagine I wouldn’t be recognised as much. Everyone I’ve talked to about it says it’s such a good experience, not something you should miss out on if you get the opportunity.”
Ronan has been home schooled by a tutor since leaving primary school. When she travels, tutors go too. Talk of university and blending into the crowd leads me to wonder if she feels she has missed out anything, yearns for a more boring life. A daft question to ask a teenager who has just been to the Met Ball and has travelled to more countries than Thomas Cook, but someone has to do it.
“Not really,” she says. “I go home to Ireland when I’ve finished working. The same people are there, I live in the same place. People change, the situation has changed, but I’m going back to normality. It’s all normal, it’s my life.”
When we speak she’s still to sign up for The Hobbit, which would find her working again with The Lord of the Rings’ Peter Jackson, who directed her in The Lovely Bones. If they’re quick, the casting directors of Ronan’s favourite soap might land a coup.
“A cameo in Coronation Street!” she laughs when it’s suggested. “That would be amazing.” But then, remembering her age, adds: “Everyone always goes to the pub, so maybe I’d go somewhere different.”
Hanna opens in cinemas today.